Mumbai Blasts and The Somnath Syndrome
Author : C.Uday Bhaskar
The tragic yet audacious multiple
terrorist attacks that killed at least 18 people and injured over 100 on
Wednesday in Mumbai is a stark and blood-splattered reminder that India
remains vulnerable to such attacks -- and that this is a manifestation
of the proxy war that has been waged against India since the early
Mumbai has been targeted by terrorists with support from within the
megalopolis and from an external power since 1993 and it peaked with the
November 2008 attack. The July 13 attack follows this pattern and
pending more detailed investigations and forensic examination, a few
preliminary inferences can be arrived at.
First, it is evident that the manner in which the attacks were
simultaneously triggered at Dadar, Zaveri market and Opera House
indicate a degree of confidence and competence by the perpetrators. This
in turn would narrow down the spectrum of likely perpetrators and while
the finger of suspicion is pointing towards a few well-known groups
(reference is being made to the Indian Mujahideen and the
Lashkar-e-Taiba) it would be imprudent and undesirable to jump to hasty,
emotive conclusions about the identity of the group or forces behind
The more urgent question that most Indians are asking -- and angrily at
that -- is how long will this pattern of terrorist attacks go on and is
Mumbai in particular going to remain perennially vulnerable -- a modern
Somnath (the medieval temple town in modern Gujarat that was ostensibly
attacked 27 times by foreign invaders)?
As an analyst, one can only regretfully conclude that for India, based
on the current domestic ambience and the regional turbulence -- the
probability index of more such terrorist attacks will increase over the
next decade. Thus, the abiding challenge for the national political and
bureaucratic security apex is how to pre-empt the next terrorist attack
and 'deter' the others that are in different stages of planning or
What the July 13 attack demonstrated is that the existing security
infrastructure and 'output' being generated by the local Mumbai police
was not adequate or appropriate to prevent the IEDs (improvised
explosive devices) from exploding in three different locations in south
Mumbai. The fact that these IEDs were hidden and placed in
pre-designated locations without being detected, is indicative of the
existing gaps and huge challenges for the local police and the
surveillance grid required in a megalopolis of 18 million citizens.
After the November 2008 attack, it was hoped that the national
intelligence infrastructure would be re-structured and that there would
be greater coordination between the state and central agencies. July 13
proved that this is not the case -- and that gaps still exist that are
being exploited by the perpetrators of terror.
Can a democratic nation like India with the kind of diverse and
socio-economically impoverished human security indicators assure its
citizens that there will never be another terrorist attack in urban
India? This is the same question that was asked of the U.S. president in
September 2001 and of the Indian prime minister repeatedly since the
parliament attack of December 2001.
While it is not possible for a politician who needs to be re-elected to
answer this question objectively -- as an analyst, one can assert 'No'.
Under the current domestic ambience and prevailing regional turbulence
(Afghanistan and Pakistan), the probability that more terrorist attacks
will occur in India remains high.
Thus, the July 13 tragedy should be seen as yet another alert to a
national security system that has not been able to find the necessary
institutional responses to sustained terror attacks -- that are
appropriate, effective and affordable.
Every recent terrorist incident has led to predictable and reactive
responses from the government and an arid, zero-sum political squabble
that is carried at a shrill pitch on the national audio-visual medium.
Mumbai in particular and India as a nation deserve better by way of
ensuring the security of the citizen against random but pre-meditated
terror attacks. A steady rise in GDP and nurturing pockets of affluence
and 'gated' communities that are secure is not the kind of profile that
behooves any democratic government. Such an arrangement is neither
equitable nor sustainable.
The post 26/11 internal security revamp announced by Home Minister P.
Chidambaram needs to be objectively reviewed and the newly formed Task
Force on national security should prioritise this aspect of internal
security -- the erasure of the Somnath syndrome.
(This article first appeared in the Reuters on July 14, 2011)